South by Southwest (SXSW) 2019 Days 7 & 8: 3 Movies & 2 Bands

I’m sitting in the Elephant Room in downtown Austin, Texas at 10:45 on a Friday night, the second Friday of the huge conference and festivals, SXSW. It’s an underground jazz club — literally — it’s in the basement and named for the prehistoric mastodon fosssil in the stone wall. It’s in between the 40′ acts. Graham Reynolds and Golden Hornet just played his own compositions, a rock / jazz / classical hybrid with trombone, violin, standup bass, drums and him on keys. The cat can play. While people talk and drink, come and go, I decided to post this blog, or at least the beginnings of one.

Yesterday was my final volunteer shift on the Sessions Crew. I worked two in a row after doing four shifts last week for the EDU conference before the main SXSW began. So I’m free to enjoy my Platinum badge and get primary access to everything. The value is around $1,200 (or more, depending when you buy it).  Even though it’s exhausting, it’s worth it to cram as much culture into my brain as possible. Especially since I don’t have the budget to go pay for lots of shows.  For an event that involves huge amounts of money these days, it’s interesting that it still relies on free labor to make it possible.

SXSW is hated by many locals due to how it overwhelms downtown streets with traffic from the closures, full hotels and general more busy-ness. I don’t know how many thousands of people come here for it, but it’s alot.  The money it brings into the city of Austin is significant. Still, I’m able to ride my bicycle around and to events, and not stand in line too much. As the fest winds down, I’m both relieved I’ll get some rest and bummed I’ll have to get back to searching for work, finding a new place to live and moving. Reality bites.  I will have to bite it back and carve out time to continue to create.  If anything inspires me to do so, it’s all the other creators here.

Carrie Ableart playing guitar and singing somber songs solo for tips.

I’ve started to lose track of what I’ve seen and done. I can list some of them, but it’s impossible to catalog all the interactions, sights and sounds. Like running into people I volunteered with and chatting with them about what they’ve seen and recommend. Short conversations with people in line, although I’m not in them for very long, are fun. Celebrity sightings are cool too, if it’s just saying hello to one passing by or being in the room listening to them talk about their movie are pretty unique experiences. The international attendees bring a special flavor to town; I’ve heard Swedish, Finnish, Japanese, Castillian Spanish, Portuguese and many other languages. Random things happen too, like stumbling upon this busker with this fantastic background I’d never seen before.

Yesterday’s movie was a documentary about a dump in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada called Salvage, it was an interesting slice of small town life. I was convinced to attend it by Eveylyn, a volunteer from, you guessed it, Canada. Today I caught three films in a row:

  • Villains – a comedy horror (really more suspense) film with Kyra Sedgwick (Mrs. Kevin Bacon) and Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Fargo season 2). I missed this the other day and was so glad I made it today. It was a Buzz Screening because it was an extra showing based on fan comments. The film had a crazy premise that it fulfilled expertly. I won’t give anything away, but damn, those North Carolinians are, to quote the presenter at the Alamo Drafthouse, “bat-shit crazy.” I really liked it despite a few squeamish scenes. It was almost like a play, since most of the action takes place at the same location. All the actors were great, especially Kyra. I can’t say more without spoiling things but there are scenes that just make you hold your breath with the tension then the next you’re laughing loudly. Although I’m a little uncomfortable with the now common making light of violence, it’s just a movie.
  • Saint Frances – This was like candy with a tough exterior and a delicious sweet interior, with a healthy dose of women’s pain and empowerment mixed in. Writer/star Kelly O’Sullivan and the director were both there for the Q & A. I got to shake her hand and tell her it was a beautiful film. I forgot to mention she was beautiful too, but I’m not moving to Chicago to be her fan, so that’s ok because snow biking is not for me. Anyway, the show stealer here is the 8-year-old Frannie (aka, Frances), a young black girl with one black mom and one Latina mom, for whom Kelly becomes a nanny. She called it There Will Be Blood 2 but it’s nothing like it. Unapologetically feminst, questioning faith, and full of great women (and a few shitty ones, too), I just really appreciated the honesty and humanity of it.
  • Extra Ordinary – This Irish film was also a Buzz Screening and I can totally see why. It was funny AF. Dealing with the supernatural in a very believable and accessible way, the star’s deadpan delivery made all the crazy happenings legitimate. Will Forte, formerly of Saturday Night Live and star of The Last Man on Earth, is the only American in it. What a doozy of a role to play for him involving singing, Satanic ritual virgin sacrifice, and some awful hair. The other actors and the story just made this a very original, hilarious, sometimes scary and fun film. I can’t quite put a finger on why this crazy story worked, but it just did. I hope it comes out in a theater near you.
Mary Lattimore

Music is a big deal here, but if you don’t know the name of the bands, most of which haven’t been discovered, it’s almost not worth it. That is, unless you are adventurous and will just see whatever is there. I played it safer and after the movies, went directly back to the Elephant Room to see what I could hear. Now, Jeff Lofton, local jazz trumpeter, is blowing his horn, along with a flute and sax player, trombone and rhythm section. People including me talked over the jazz but maybe that’s alright. I was happy to find myself there and will probably stop by tomorrow after one last showing of the popular movies and award winners.

At SXSW, there’s plenty of good stuff out there, if you know where to look. And sometimes when you aren’t looking. I caught this harpist in the photo using electronics to loop and create effects down by the river. Some cool North Face gloves with a Gore Tex lining were my reward while I was there. There’s a crew v. celebrities softball game Sunday I may check out. I’ll share a wrap-up Monday, so y’all come back now, ya hear?

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